July 19, 2020
Although Hilgard Mountain was the last major peak in this region that I hadn’t hiked, it was the first I’d ever seen or heard of. When I was 14 years old (so, fall of 1990) my dad took me deer hunting with some of his friends and we camped at Elk Camp. I remember it vividly. For some reason the ponderosa pine trees really stand out in my memory. My dad worked nights driving a semi for UPS from Price to Grand Junction, and after he got off work one morning he drove me to the Hunter Power Plant where his friend Tim worked. When Tim got off work I hopped in his motorhome and we headed toward camp while my dad returned home to work another night. That day I was unsupervised around camp with my .22 rifle and I thought it would be fun to shoot a squirrel, which I did and then immediately felt great remorse. It wasn’t any fun at all killing an animal for no reason. My dad arrived the next morning and we spent the weekend hunting but none of us got our deer. The following weekend my dad and I returned in his shitty Datsun pickup for another couple days of fruitless hunting. I recall on the drive in, on Highway 72 just before the Last Chance Creek Road (FR-015) turn, I exclaimed to my dad, “There’s a deer!” He slammed on the brakes and we stopped in the road, at which point I sheepishly pointed out the image on the deer crossing sign along the highway. I thought he would kill me (he had quite a temper), but he laughed it off and we continued on toward camp.
Fast-forward 30 years. After hiking Adams Head and Powell Point, along with a lot of driving, Chris and I settled in to our camp spot near Hilgard Mountain on Saturday evening. We stayed up pretty late around the propane campfire knowing that we had a relatively short and easy day ahead of us on Sunday.
We were awake at 7AM on Sunday and there were cows surrounding our camp spot. A rancher had left a salt block there and we couldn’t keep the cows away. After eating breakfast we packed up camp and shouldered our backpacks and set out to hike Hilgard Mountain. I’d planned on hiking this peak along with Mount Marvine and Mount Terrill on a trip three years earlier but bailed out early. This time I was worn out from the previous day and wasn’t looking forward to the hike, but I took it slow and easy and it turned out to not be a big deal. The first leg of the journey was along some old logging roads, and we were chasing cows out of the way much of the time.
The logging road ended and we had a couple of steep, rocky climbs ahead of us. Chris and I parted ways at this point. I had planned my route carefully using Google Earth and was following that route using my GPS, and he thought a more direct approach was better. I never saw him again until I was nearly at the summit. The first climb was the worst with a little bushwhacking involved, then the ridge leveled out a bit. The rocky sections were littered with Colorado Columbines and also a little deadfall that I had to climb over. The next steep climb looked worse than it was, but by the time I was half-way up Chris had attained the summit.
According to the USGS topo map there was supposed to be a survey marker at the summit but we could only locate one of the reference marks. There was a mailbox with a summit register inside. There were many older loose pages of summit logs which I didn’t bother to read through. Normally I’d be curious about the oldest log in the register, but with so many old, moldy loose-leaf pages it would have taken a long time to comb through them. It was interesting that only the day before somebody had hiked up Hilgard Mountain and placed a new summit register, and two others (presumably not part of the same group) had signed it the same day.
I felt great standing atop this mountain, the last major one in the area that I needed to climb, from which I could see many other familiar peaks that I’ve stood atop. I’ve included links to those other trip reports in the photo captions below.
Chris and I headed down off the mountain, and once again we got separated when he followed an easier-looking path while I took nearly the exact same route I’d followed on the way up. I got back to the Jeep a few minutes before him and then we headed toward home, taking the road along Red Creek toward I-70.